* Lunar New Year usually key travel period
* Coronavirus has killed 17 and infected 600 so far
* Hotels offering free cancellations
* IHG group shares down 2.2%, one of biggest FTSE 100 falls
* Movie releases postponed, airlines on high alert
* (Adds Hyatt, Langham statements)
SHANGHAI, Jan 23 (Reuters) - InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt will allow guests to change or cancel stays at most Chinese hotels as a deadly coronavirus outbreak overshadows Lunar New Year holiday plans.
The outbreak began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has killed 17 and infected nearly 600 people so far. The holiday takes place between Jan. 24-30.
IHG said on its official WeChat account on Thursday that it will allow customers to change or cancel stays scheduled up to Feb. 3 across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan at no additional cost.
The waiver of fees applies to bookings made directly, such as through the company’s mobile app or website, it added. It advised customers who booked via third-party vendors to contact those platforms directly.
IHG has 443 hotels in Greater China under different brands, and has another 397 in the pipeline, according to its website here. It operates four hotels in Wuhan.
The company has been investing in China, its fastest-growing market and has revamped rooms at Holiday Inn to woo local business travellers.
However, it has already warned of lower business bookings in China and a downturn in tourism from the protests in Hong Kong. Its shares were 2.2% lower at 4,888 pence at 1131 GMT, making them one of the biggest losers on London’s bluechip FTSE 100 index.
Separately, Chicago-headquartered Hyatt said guests who had booked stays through its official channels and are canceling due to the coronavirus flu or are Chinese guests outbound to its Asia Pacific hotels, can cancel stays or change dates free of charge.
The policy applies to Hyatt’s hotels in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but not the three in Sanya, its customer service representatives said through its WeChat service.
“While all the Hyatt hotels in China remain in operation as usual, we understand the concerns for traveling at the moment,” the company said in a statement.
The company runs about 100 hotels in the Greater China region according to its website here.
Investment trust Langham said that for all the Langham and Cordis Mainland China Hotels in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Haining, Ningbo, Xiamen, Hefei and Haikou, a full refund will be given for cancellations related to the coronavirus for stays up to and including Feb. 9.
Global airlines are also on high alert as the virus spreads, bringing with it concerns of a sharp drop in travel demand if it becomes a pandemic.
The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been also postponed. The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds. (Reporting by Zoey Zhang and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and writing by Noor Zainab Hussain, Additional reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Elaine Hardcastle)
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